Chinese tradition holds that throughout most of its history, China has relegated warfare and military matters to a secondary role within society.
Chinese tradition holds that throughout most of its history, China has relegated warfare and military matters to a secondary role within society. From the earliest dynastic records onward, the Chinese have deliberately differentiated
Despite these ideals, China’s early history revolved around conquest and the centralization of the state. Every major dynasty was founded through warfare, and once unified, China guarded its frontiers with military force and sought to expand its territory at the expense of southern and western neighbors. Inevitably, each dynasty in turn fell as a result of warfare.
Accordingly, the Shang fell as a result of Emperor Zhou
The remaining half of the Zhou dynastic age is subdivided into two sections: the
Final unification occurred in 221
Upon Shihuangdi’s death in 210
Following the breakup of the Han, three
Weaponry evolved considerably over the period from 1500
As the Warring States
Clearly the most important innovation in early Chinese warfare was the crossbow. Developed in China sometime in the fifth century
Much has been learned about Qin armor of the third century
The first Chinese
A great deal about Qin armor is known from the life-size terra-cotta figures unearthed near the first emperor’s tomb. Several styles of armor are noted, including short mail jackets of lamellar construction designed to cover the entire upper body; lamellar chest protectors; lamellar armor for charioteers, which includes both neck guards and armor extending to the wrists with plates to protect the hands; and that of the cavalry, shorter than the others and missing shoulder guards. Under the armor, each warrior wears a long-sleeved robe reaching to the knees, along with a heavy cloth bundle at the neck. Short trousers are also discernible.
Close-up of a Qin soldier and horse from the terra-cotta excavations.
Not until the time of the Han Dynasty was iron used for certain types of armor. Most armor consisted of plates arranged in the lamellar construction, designed to protect the neck, front, back, and thighs. One such suit contained 500 plates and weighed nearly 22 pounds. By the late Han Dynasty, authors begin referring to brilliant dark armor, which may suggest a suit made of decarburized steel, although none have been recovered as yet.
Infantry typically appeared without armor and were generally equipped with little more than a shield and helmet. Most infantrymen wore a simple tunic, trousers, and leather shin guards.
Shang Dynasty military organization is open to a great deal of speculation. Given the paucity of reliable literary sources, scholars are dependent on archaeological evidence and speculation concerning the actual role of chariots in early warfare. It is clear that Shang social structure centered on clan units designated as zu (tsu). Most scholars believe that the
Under the Zhou Dynasty, the
Apart from local variations, this organizational structure held throughout the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. However, whereas warfare in the former was conducted by the nobility following strict codes of honor and chivalrous behavior, the latter was marked by increasing violence and retributive combat. As war intensified, the need for manpower increased dramatically, with forced
Qin armies were filled through the conscription of peasants into local militia units available for immediate call-ups. Every male between the ages of seventeen and sixty served as either a warrior or a laborer. The Han modified this policy, filling its ranks with conscripts, volunteers, and convicts. Every male between the ages of twenty-three and fifty-six was required to serve two years, one in training, the other in active service at a garrison. Following their stint, soldiers joined the local militia until age fifty-six.
Both the Qin and Han used increasingly sophisticated armies combining infantry, chariots, crossbowmen, and cavalry. The first Qin emperor implemented the use of mounted crossbowmen and their coordination with the composite bow. These combined armies allowed the Chinese to deploy small independent units, as well as traditionally organized larger armies, in the field.
Although the nobility continued to fill the highest command positions, junior officers began to emerge from the general rank and file, being chosen on the basis of ability. Advancement was based on merit, with an elaborate system of differentiated pay relative to one’s seniority and rank. Officers were assigned as a particular need arose. Titles and roles related specifically to the campaign, with several generals assigned to each to avoid possible coups.
The Han military was organized into three principal units: a standing garrison at the capital, a task force on the march, and a permanent frontier defense. Once mobilized in an emergency, the military was organized into divisions led by the generals, regiments led by colonels, companies led by captains, and platoons led by commanders. Although local variations would appear in the chaos that followed upon the collapse of the Han, this basic organizational structure as established by the Qin and Han continued to prevail.
The size of Chinese armies has been notoriously difficult to calculate, particularly for the earliest Shang and Western Zhou periods. As noted above, the war between the Zhou and Shang was said to have been fought by a Shang army of 700,000 and a Zhou force of 300 chariots, 3,000 Tiger Guards, and 45,000 foot soldiers. By the Spring and Autumn period, when warfare had become highly ritualized and was dominated by aristocratic charioteers, field armies typically numbered in the thousands but would appear to have rarely exceeded 10,000. As the scale of war increased in the Warring States period, the size of armies grew dramatically. In order to lay siege to fortified cities and to conduct wars that often took years to complete, hundreds of thousands of men were required. According to one contemporary account, the typical army consisted of “one thousand chariots, ten thousands of cavalry, and several hundred thousand armored warriors.” The smallest of the warring states fielded armies of more than 300,000; the largest, such as Qin, commanded more than 1,000,000. Likewise, Han expeditions numbering from 50,000 to 300,000 were routinely sent out to quell rebellions and punish nomadic invaders.
Throughout the Shang and early Zhou periods, warfare was violent and fought in the Homeric style. Chariots served as transport or observational platforms, and warriors fought with spears, axes, and composite bows. If the military classic the
A Chinese Tiger Guard with weapons.
A new era of warfare began in the Spring and Autumn period. This was the great age of
China During the Warring States and Han Dynasty,475
Such sentiments were forgotten during the Warring States period. However, even as the violence escalated, strategists continued to advocate deception and speed as the primary means of securing victory. Siege
Bingfa (c. 510
While specific tactics and strategies evolved and adapted to new technologies and the changing face of war, the fundamental principles espoused by Sunzi and other classical theoreticians continued to hold sway. From the Warring States period to the chaos following the fall of the Han, Chinese warfare emphasized the doctrine of
Thus, even as the Han adapted the
fucian saint in 1724, and was immortalized in Luo
The most important primary sources fall into two basic categories. The first are the numerous histories compiled throughout this period. These include the Shujing (Shu ching), or Book of History (1918), which purports to cover the years 2357-627
The second principal resource consists of several military texts brought together during the Song (Sung) Dynasty (960-1126
Gabriel, Richard A. “China, 1750-256 b.c.e.” In The Ancient World. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2007. _______. “Chinese Armies: The Shang and Zhou Periods, 1750-256 b.c.e.” In The Great Armies of Antiquity. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. Gabriel, Richard A., and Donald W. Boose, Jr. “The Chinese Way of War: Chengpu, Guiling, Jingxing.” In The Great Battles of Antiquity: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles That Shaped the Development of War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Graff, David A. “Ch’in Shih-huang-ti.” In The Reader’s Companion to Military History, edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Kierman, Frank A., Jr., and John K. Fairbank, eds. Chinese Ways in Warfare. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. Lewis, Mark Edward. The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007. Needham, Joseph. Military Technology: Missiles and Sieges. Vol. 5 in Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Peers, C. J. Ancient Chinese Armies, 1500-200 B.C. Illustrated by Angus McBride. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1990. _______. Imperial Chinese Armies, 200 B.C.-A.D. 589. Illustrated by Michael Perry. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1995. Sawyer, Ralph D., trans. and comp. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993. Twitchett, Denis, and John K. Fairbank, eds. The Ch’in and Han Empires, 221 B.C.-A.D. 220. Vol. 1 in The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Yates, Robin D. S. “Making War and Making Peace in Early China.” In War and Peace in the Ancient World, edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2007. First Emperor of China. Documentary. Razor Digital Entertainment, 2006. Red Cliff. Feature film. Beijeng Film Studio, 2008.
China: The Qing Empire
China: Modern Warfare
Nomadic Warriors of the Steppe
India and South Asia: Ancient